|Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
March 23, 2000
Ms. Tenley A. Aldredge
Dear Ms. Aldredge:
You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 135230.
The Travis County Sheriff's Office (the "county") received four requests for information which collectively seeks copies of reports numbered 00-1279, 0000001266, 99-17560, and 00-2999. You have provided for our review information that is responsive to the requests. You assert that the requested information is excepted from public disclosure under section 552.108 of the Government Code. We have reviewed the submitted information and considered the exception you assert.
We note that the county received the requests for information on February 23, 2000 and that the county's request for an opinion from this office was postmarked March 10, 1999. Thus, the county failed to request an open records decision from this office within ten business days as required under Government Code section 552.301. See Gov't Code § 552.301(b). This failure to timely request a decision results in the legal presumption that the requested information is open to the public. Gov't Code § 552.302; see Hancock v. State Bd. of Ins., 797 S.W.2d 379 (Tex. App.--Austin 1990, no writ). The presumption of openness can be overcome only by a compelling demonstration that the information must not be released, e.g., where it is made confidential by other law or where third party interests are at issue. Open Record Decision No. 150 (1977). Because section 552.108 is intended to protect the interests of the governmental body, this exception is waived if it is not timely asserted. By contrast, the application of sections 552.101 and 552.130 of the Government Code is a compelling reason.(1)
We note that the submitted documents contain social security numbers. Social security numbers may be withheld in some circumstances under section 552.101 of the Government Code.(2) A social security number or "related record" may be excepted from disclosure under section 552.101 in conjunction with the 1990 amendments to the federal Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(c)(2)(C)(viii)(I). See Open Records Decision No. 622 (1994). These amendments make confidential social security numbers and related records that are obtained and maintained by a state agency or political subdivision of the state pursuant to any provision of law enacted on or after October 1, 1990. See id. We have no basis for concluding that any of the social security numbers in the records here are confidential under section 405(c)(2)(C)(viii)(I), and therefore excepted from public disclosure on the basis of that federal provision. We caution, however, that section 552.353 of the Public Information Act imposes criminal penalties for the release of confidential information. Prior to releasing any social security number information, you should ensure that no such information was obtained or is maintained by the county pursuant to any provision of law, enacted on or after October 1, 1990.
Section 552.130 excepts information that relates to a motor vehicle operator's or driver's license or permit issued by an agency of this state or a motor vehicle title or registration issued by an agency of this state. See Gov't Code § 552.130. We have marked the section 552.130 information that you must withhold. Except as otherwise noted herein, the remaining requested information must be released.
This letter ruling is limited to the particular records at issue in this request and limited to the facts as presented to us; therefore, this ruling must not be relied upon as a previous determination regarding any other records or any other circumstances.
This ruling triggers important deadlines regarding the rights and responsibilities of the governmental body and of the requestor. For example, governmental bodies are prohibited from asking the attorney general to reconsider this ruling. Gov't Code § 552.301(f). If the governmental body wants to challenge this ruling, the governmental body must appeal by filing suit in Travis County within 30 calendar days. Id. § 552.324(b). In order to get the full benefit of such an appeal, the governmental body must file suit within 10 calendar days. Id. § 552.353(b)(3), (c). If the governmental body does not appeal this ruling and the governmental body does not comply with it, then both the requestor and the attorney general have the right to file suit against the governmental body to enforce this ruling. Id. § 552.321(a).
If this ruling requires the governmental body to release all or part of the requested information, the governmental body is responsible for taking the next step. Based on the statute, the attorney general expects that, within 10 calendar days of this ruling, the governmental body will do one of the following three things: 1) release the public records; 2) notify the requestor of the exact day, time, and place that copies of the records will be provided or that the records can be inspected; or 3) notify the requestor of the governmental body's intent to challenge this letter ruling in court. If the governmental body fails to do one of these three things within 10 calendar days of this ruling, then the requestor should report that failure to the attorney general's Open Government Hotline, toll free, at 877/673-6839. The requestor may also file a complaint with the district or county attorney. Id. § 552.3215(e).
If this ruling requires or permits the governmental body to withhold all or some of the requested information, the requestor can appeal that decision by suing the governmental body. Id. § 552.321(a); Texas Department of Public Safety v. Gilbreath, 842 S.W.2d 408, 411 (Tex. App.-Austin 1992, no writ).
If the governmental body, the requestor, or any other person has questions or comments about this ruling, they may contact our office. Although there is no statutory deadline for contacting us, the attorney general prefers to receive any comments within 10 calendar days of the date of this ruling.
Ref: ID# 135230
Encl. Submitted documents
1. Discretionary exceptions are intended to protect only the interests of the governmental body, as distinct from exceptions which are intended to protect information deemed confidential by law or the interests of third parties. See, e.g., Open Records Decision Nos. 630 at 4 (1994) (governmental body may waive attorney-client privilege, section 552.107(1)); 592 at 8 (1991) (governmental body may waive section 552.104, information relating to competition or bidding); 549 at 6 (1990) (governmental body may waive informer's privilege); 522 at 4 (1989) (discretionary exceptions in general).
2. Section 552.101 excepts from disclosure "information considered to be confidential by law, either constitutional, statutory, or by judicial decision." This section encompasses information protected by other statutes.
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